The diversity and talent of newsrooms will be damaged if the news industry does not foster inclusive cultures where journalists feel comfortable speaking openly about their mental health, the Society of Editors conference has been told.
Delivering a speech on how ‘investing in mental health benefits journalists and journalism’, Hannah Storm, founder and co-director of the Headlines Network, said that the industry needs to do more to normalise conversations around mental health. News leaders, she said, could also lead by example in sharing their experiences.
She said: “We need to normalise conversations around mental health. Even the term is regarded by some as a barrier to bringing people together. But we all have mental health, just as we all have physical health. And we all experience it differently, with mental health encompassing a breadth of experiences.
“We need to create cultures where everyone feels safe sharing theirs. Sadly, one of the most common concerns I hear from colleagues – anywhere – is they are still scared that admitting they are distressed will prevent them from getting the next promotion, or story. And yet, it can be transformational for all of us when people feel safe sharing their stories.”
Hannah, who also works as a media consultant, shared her own experiences and recovery from PTSD and said that from her conversations with colleagues, many reported feeling “exhausted”. While there was no single solution, she said, practical steps that had provided positive feedback included “regular town halls” where managers initiated conversations and shared experiences; as well as surveying staff and collecting data. In addition, what may seem like “little gestures” such as “buying cake for colleagues or pizza after a taxing run of stories” were the things that “people remembered” she said.
She added: “Whatever you do, this is about communicating regularly, showing people you care, reminding them what support they can access, and responding based on people’s changing needs. This is about having conversations frequently, with individuals, different communities, your whole newsroom and the wider industry.
“This is about validating people’s experiences, thanking them for what they do, recognising the toll that their work has taken, and offering them space or support to recover, rest and rebuild, while ensuring they recognise the coping strategies they have, and how these can be complemented by newsroom support. “